Last Thursday, the Michigan football team got a stiff test for its run defense when it took on Utah and Devontae Booker, the Pac-12’s second-leading rusher in 2014. And on Saturday, when Oregon State visits Ann Arbor, the Wolverines will face yet another fleet-footed challenge.
In Jim Harbaugh’s first home game as head coach of the Wolverines, Michigan will try its hand at containing a quarterback who will be looking to run all game in Oregon State's Seth Collins.
Against Utah, the Wolverines saw a healthy dose of Booker and kept him mostly in check for the first half. But they were burned by senior quarterback Travis Wilson, who sucked momentum out of the Michigan defense by scrambling to the tune of 12 carries for 53 yards and a touchdown.
Collins has played only one game in his career, but he was impressive on the ground, ripping off 152 yards rushing on 17 attempts — a whopping 8.9 yards per carry. Then again, that performance came against Weber State, so the gaudy numbers don’t mean as much as they would have against a Football Bowl Subdivision team.
What the numbers do provide, though, is a glimpse of how Collins will try to beat the Wolverines (0-1). Throughout the Beavers’ opener, it was clear Collins would prefer to run when possible. He attempted just 18 passes, completing 10 for 92 yards. So when he lines up against Michigan on Saturday, the Wolverines will need to have the QB contained at all times.
Fortunately for Michigan, its athletic linebackers should be up to the task. Seniors Joe Bolden, James Ross III and Desmond Morgan will bear the brunt of the responsibility in stopping the run, and if they can go sideline to sideline and keep Collins in front of them, they’re a solid bet to keep the Beavers (1-0) in check.
Outside of Collins, Oregon State also has a steady stable of backs who can carry the load as well. Storm Woods and Chris Brown combined for 117 yards on 29 carries against the Wildcats. Michigan’s run defense is expected to be its strength going forward, so if the Beavers’ trio of runners can produce, it could cause some alarm at the Big House.
But the Wolverines will have to be careful to not get caught watching for a run. Wednesday, Michigan defensive backs coach Greg Jackson cautioned that while the run game is clearly a focus for the Beavers, it can also be used as an effective decoy.
“We still think (when) there’s more runs, there’s more deep balls,” Jackson said. “So we’re going to come up and leverage all the players with safeties, but at the same time we're going to be prepared for deep balls as well, because with the runs, there’s a whole bunch of play actions to come with it.”
Michigan is favored by more than two touchdowns in the home opener, and ESPN’s SportsCenter will be broadcasting from Ann Arbor, which is sure to energize the city. And in Harbaugh’s Big House debut, it’s a safe bet that the Wolverines will be fired up to face the Beavers, especially after last week’s season-opening loss.
“Some people walk right out of the locker room and they’re over (a loss),” Harbaugh said Monday. “I’m not one of those guys. It stays with me — I choose to have it stay with me, and in the mindset of our team, it’ll stay with us.
“There’s a bad taste in our mouth when you lose a football game and there’s only one mouthwash for that, and that is winning.”